Ad hoc committee taking shape

Council members Greg Johnson, Kevin Roden and John Ryan all expressed an interest in working on an ad hoc committee that would take a fresh look at the city’s nearly 35-year-old ordinance on historic preservation.

The council discussed whether to form the committee during a workshop session over lunch today in the training room of the city’s facilities building.

Mayor Chris Watts sought reassurance that the council’s intent in visiting the issue was not to undermine the Historic Landmark Commission. He was not on City Council when many issues emerged with the commission and the prospect of an ad hoc committee was raised (see stories here and here and here and here and here), but he was on council when the body moved to disband its airport board. Past councils had earned a reputation of interfering with the work of its boards and commissions, he said.

Council member Kevin Roden said he believed a council committee could help the commission better get about its business of historic preservation by addressing issues in the old ordinance.

The council is reviewing a draft resolution that it expects to consider on a consent agenda next month. Then, the council and commission will gather in a joint meeting in September or October to set an agenda for the council committee.

 

R&B singer SoMo arrested on drug charge

By Ben Baby
Staff Writer

Former North Texas student and R&B singer Joseph Somers-Morales was arrested in Hickory Creek on Sunday night.

Somers-Morales, whose stage name is SoMo, was charged with possession of less than two ounces of marijuana.  The charge is a Class B misdemeanor that is punishable up to a fine of $2,000, a jail sentence of 180 days or both. Somers-Morales posted $1,000 bond and was released from the Denton County jail on Monday morning.

Somers-Morales attended UNT from the fall of 2006 to the fall of 2007, according to the university. This was before the Denison native gained fame on the Internet and caught the eye of Republic Records. Republic signed SoMo in the fall of 2013, adding him to a stable that includes artists Drake, ZZ Top and PSY, just to name a few.

SoMo’s 2012 single, “Ride,” was certified Gold by the RIAA in April. The track was featured on his self-titled debut album.

Legal opinions

In my first report from the public hearing on the frack ban, I was able to write a few sentences about the legal opinions being provided to the City Council, one from former Texas Supreme Court Justice Tom Phillips and the other from Jordan Yeager, at Curtin & Heefner.

Grab a cup of joe and see for yourself how different legal minds see the city’s battle to police what happens in its boundaries.

Phillips opinion

Yeager opinion

Frack ban: Flyers, flyers everywhere

Residents both in and outside of Denton reported receiving flyers about Denton’s vote tomorrow night on the proposed ban on hydraulic fracturing. (This is in addition to reports that residents are being asked to sign a plebiscite petition that ostensibly opposes the ban, although an increasing number of residents tell us they were mislead by the petition workers about the meaning of the petition.)

Here’s a copy of what’s shown up on Denton doorsteps.

The website registration for Clean Resources has been made private, but the group likely has ties to the Barnett Shale Energy Education Council (BSEEC), a longstanding industry-funded effort. A handful of people from Fort Worth came sporadically to Denton City Council public hearings in the past few years and identified themselves as being from Clean Resources before stating their opposition to revised oil and gas development rules. The director of BSEEC, Ed Ireland, served on the city’s task force in the re-writing of those rules.

In addition, mineral owners in several nearby cities report receiving this letter in the mail, urging them to come to the Denton City Council meeting Tuesday.

The meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. The city staff are preparing for a crowd. Here is an advisory to help if you plan to attend.

Call to local royalty owners

Denton resident Shirley Price called me to say that she’d received a letter from the Texas Royalty Council urging her to call her city leaders to oppose the proposed ban on hydraulic fracturing.

The public hearing on the ban is expected during the Denton City Council’s July 15 meeting.

Price called because she had not seen mention of the council’s letter in our story about the latest petition in town seeking support of fracking.

The letter, which is posted on the council’s website, suggests that Denton may not be legally able to hold the frack ban election under its city charter. The letter also suggests a court injunction against such an election was possible. Neither the Texas Oil and Gas Association, the Texas Independent Producers and Royalty Owners Associations nor the many attorneys I have visited with have suggested this possibility.

For the record, the relationship between the longstanding TIPRO and the royalty council is unclear. The oldest entries on the council website date to 2008 — a little post-Barnett Shale boon, and more at the start of the Eagle Ford rush.

Price thought Denton mineral owners were getting these letters regardless of where their holdings were. She has holdings in Montague County. As such, a ban in Denton wouldn’t affect her mineral income.

The way the letter is written also makes it difficult for the reader to keep other facts straight. Denton’s proposed ban is not on drilling, but on fracking. The recent Dryden decision shows the argument over a city using its local powers to regulate (zoning, public health and safety) as a “regulatory taking” is far from settled.

The connection between a frack ban in Denton and local job loss is likely tenuous, since no oil and gas companies are based here. The connection between a frack ban in Denton and higher taxes is also tenuous, since both the city’s and school’s property tax base are far more diversified. In many meetings, I’ve watched the city staff plan for the obsolescence in mineral wealth at the airport.

Given the lack of transparency in the state budget, a claim about the impact on tuition needs to be examined for its full effects. The UNT System doesn’t have property holdings like UT. Some of the state’s severance tax goes into the rainy day fund, the rest goes into the general fund, which helps fund higher education.

As a call to action, Price told me she could appreciate the letter’s stance. I found it interesting that she also said that she didn’t think there should be fracking in the city limits, especially with emerging science on its impacts to drinking water and earthquakes.

Troubling testimony about child, adult protective services

I listened to most of the testimony during the Sunset Advisory Commission’s public hearings Wednesday to prepare for today’s report on the state supported living centers.

I heard testimony about other facets of human services in Texas during the course of the day — testimony from families whose cases revealed a troubling lack of accountability in the Department of Family and Protective Services.

A woman and her two sons testified to their year apart when a caseworker removed all of the woman’s children after one of her adoptive children died. The woman told the Senate panel that she agreed to take in her sister-in-law’s young children, who she thought were neglected. After they came into her care, she learned the true extent of their abuse, but the caseworker and the department did not come to her aid, she said. When one of the children died from complications of the abuse, the caseworker returned to remove all the children. The sons testified to the sexual abuse they suffered in the care of foster families and the mother testified to spending all her savings in order to get her children back.

By the end of the family’s testimony, an agency representative was at the table with them and acknowledged the commission members’ call for an internal and criminal investigation.

Commission members also called for the Texas Rangers to investigate after hearing testimony from several families about guardians-for-hire. Those families testified that after a complaint or dispute with Adult Protective Services, a new guardian would be appointed, limit the family member’s access and, over time, drain the loved one’s estate.

Nelson called those rounds of testimony “discouraging.”

Both days of testimony were broadcast on the web and are available online at www.senate.state.tx.us/avarchive/.

Better Block project needs volunteers

A few months back, I reported on a new initiative in Denton to help boost neighborhood revitalization.

The city has selected the Sherman Drive neighborhood, around the old Piggly Wiggly store, for its first living charrette.

On his blog, Council member Kevin Roden called it a “great area with tons of eager neighbors nearby ready to see that area pop with creative neighborhood services, better streetscape, and improved biking and walking accessibility.”

Residents have planned the charrette for Saturday morning, June 28, and will be building the pieces they need for it on Thursday and Friday.

It looks like a lot of fun: pallet furniture, a hay bale “splash park,” pop-up shops and a street repair workshop.

Volunteers need to sign up this week, so that organizers can better plan for the event. Go here to sign up.

If you want to learn more about Better Block in general, visit betterblock.org.

Drowning victim’s body recovered

From staff writer Bj Lewis:

 
The body of 38-year-old Michael Quach was recovered early Wednesday morning.

Capt. Cliff Swofford, a state game warden, said the body was found at 6:20 a.m. west of the marina in Hidden Cove Park.

He had been missing since Sunday.

“The body rose last night and floated to the inner cove,” he said.

Swofford said the Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s Office has taken possession of the body and everybody is clear of the lake now.

Quach, of Melissa, jumped out of a boat to help his nephew, who was panicking in the water. Quach wasn’t wearing a life jacket and never made it back to the boat.

Crews from The Colony and Lewisville fire departments assisted state personnel in the search.

Quach’s wife, Brianna Mann, and several other members of the family had been at Hidden Cove Park since he went missing. Quach had been on a Father’s Day boat outing with his wife, two children and other family members when he went missing.

Little Elm High School not on lockdown, students detained

Two students were detained after a morning altercation at Little Elm High School, according to a Little Elm school district official.

A student was poked in the hand with a plastic utensil from a school cafeteria by another student, according to the district. Both students were detained and the student injured was treated and sent back to class while the other student was taken into custody.

“Rumors circulated that the school was placed on lockdown, however that was never the case,” Julie Zwahr, a district spokeswoman wrote in an email. “The campus was never evacuated and class continued on regular schedule.”

EagleRidge re-working well at Acme Brick

We received this press release from the city at about 4:45 p.m. today (it follows several tweets from @DentonPD last night):

City staff has been notified that EagleRidge Operating, LLC will re-work the Acme Brick D 3H well. The work is being done to unplug a potentially clogged pipeline. Workover rig equipment and an enclosed flare unit will be set up to complete the short-term operation. EagleRidge estimates the work will take two to three days.

The Acme Brick D 3H well is included in the Standstill Agreement negotiated between the Denton City Council and EagleRidge.

Questions or complaints regarding gas wells may be directed to the 24-hour Gas Well Hotline at (940) 349-8GAS (8427).